In the latest GOP debate, all three candidates who are not Romney showed themselves to be to the right of Reagan-era conservatives who sought to abolish the Federal Department of Education, presumably to return control of public education to the states. The discussion was focused on Santorum’s previous vote in favor of “No Child Left Behind,” so the striking agreement on completely privatizing control of education, if not funding of it, slipped by.
Santorum (who has been talking about this recently anyway) started the round explaining that as a “homeschooling father of seven,” he believes “the state government should start to get out of the education business and put it to the local and into the community.” In case it’s not clear that “the community” means parents, not citizens though local government, Gingrich clarified: “I agree with Rick’s point… and I’d urge the local communities the turn most of the power back to the parents.” Ron Paul joked, “Newt’s going in the right direction, but not far enough.”
The religious right has long had the goal of eliminating public education. Candidates don’t need to be closet Reconstructionists to be influenced by the work of Reconstructionists, but it’s worth noting that when R.J. Rushdoony wrote the Messianic Character of American Education in 1963 he argued that education is not a proper function of government. “Government schools” were the vehicle for promoting the anti-Christian religion of humanism and should ultimately be abolished. Few outside his small circle took him seriously.
In Rushdoony’s vision, the single most important tool for transforming the whole of culture to conform to biblical law (i.e. the exercise of dominion), was to replace public education with biblical education. The decades since have brought the rise of the Christian school and the Christian homeschool movements, both of which are rooted philosophically and even legally in Rushdoony’s work. A handful of Christian Reconstructionist writers who came after Rushdoony laid out detailed strategies to build a “biblical” system responsible only to parents, convince Christians that they are being disobedient to God if they send their children to government schools, and gradually choke off funding for alternatives that are public and/or secular. (In fact, they don’t believe there is any such thing as secular).
“How are we going to abolish the public schools? Little by little,” one of them wrote, advocating deliberately overwhelming government schools with meaningless “accountability,” undermining the teachers unions, opposing efforts to build facilities or improve schools, and seeking out people who will work as teachers for incredibly small amounts of money to reduce overall salaries. Another Christian Reconstructionist author (on whom Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell relied in the writing of his Master’s Thesis) said this:
If you run for the public school board, do it with one intention only: to create an orderly transition to exclusively private education. If you can’t be elected on this platform (as seems likely), then become the candidate who wants to reduce waste. (The Biblical definition of wasteful public schools: “public Schools.”) Your real agenda: no more pay increases for teachers, no more school building programs, and a reduction next year in property taxes. Forever.
Again, candidates need not be Reconstructionists in order to be influenced by the work they’ve done over the last half century. In the 1960s, they set out a goal so extreme no one took it seriously; by the 1980s, the goal and certain tactics to achieve it were promoted in their literature and institutions. In the 2012 presidential election, the only candidate not moving in the direction they advocate is the Mormon candidate, Mitt Romney.